Sudbury support workers fear First Nations HIV epidemic
Public health agency points to injection drug use as a key source of HIV infection
Northern Ontario could be facing an HIV epidemic as injection drug use in aboriginal communities continues to increase.
The trend is alarming to support workers in Sudbury, who are seeing a sharp rise in injection drug use among First Nations people.
Christina Agawa, a drug and alcohol worker at the N'Swakamok Friendship Centre, said she is beginning to see a lot more track-marked arms.
Agawa said the centre's drug detox program was twice as busy last year, partly because of the shift to injection drug use.
" In 1982, when I started working in detox, at that point it was about 99.9 per cent alcoholics," she said. "Now it's gone to the other extreme, where it's 99.9 per cent OxyContin and other prescription drugs."
In Sudbury, the Ontario Aboriginal HIV/AIDS Strategy office provides culturally-appropriate education and awareness, both on and off reserves. At this office, Sandra Fox works with Aboriginal people dealing with the fallout of injection drug use.
"Drug injection is basically the primary way in which this HIV/AIDS infection gets into the system," Fox said. "This is how the majority of our Aboriginal people are becoming infected. It's a pandemic. It's absolutely through the roof."
The Public Health Agency of Canada's iTrack survey said 66 per cent of new HIV infections can be attributed to injection drug use.